Today at Helsinki airport, I passed security inspection without having to offload my liquids and laptop. I was only instructed to remove the sweaters I was wearing.

On the other side of the security X-ray gate, a long queue of passengers was forming. These people were waiting for their carry-ons, redirected from a new automated conveyor, to be examined more thoroughly. It seems that most bags were being diverted by the new invisible security agents. 

Bag inspectors hurried to review the large monitors mounted above their eye level. The two inspectors before me were jockeying for a single monitor, and reaching up high to click flat buttons on this 34″ touch screen. They were interacting with the 3D image of the bag’s projection and painstakingly rotating it in space to get a better view. 

These inspectors were locating suspicious contents among the belongings inside the travelers’ bags, inspecting them visually, and using button clicks to either green-light or dispose of the identified substances. Liquids over 100 ml were examined closely, some being disposed of. Other liquids, such as sunscreens or medicines were removed from the luggage, and inserted into a chemical sniffing machine to check for explosives or maybe drugs, or something else. 

“I think you are using an AI-driven image recognition system,” I said to the inspector rotating my overstuffed tech bag on the 3D display. “Do you think it works better? It seems to me that most of the bags on the conveyor are being pulled off for detailed manual inspection, many more than when human inspectors performed the image reviews.”

“I think you are right,” sighed the hurried inspector, “and it is NOT better this way.” He then proceeded to open my bulging carry-on on the examining table. 

The queue of passengers waiting for their bags to be examined grew longer behind me.

Of course, this change in security procedures was intended to improve the services, as described in this post from Finavia “ We believe that with the new technology, we can offer our passengers a more relaxed and smoother start to their journey,” says Ari Kumara.

Unfortunately, this current AI-enabled security update is not working as intended to improve the travelers’ experience. Let’s review the steps saved:

  • Having passengers independently remove liquids from their bags, in order to move faster through the X-ray scanner


New steps created as a result of this security enhancement:

  • Most travelers’ bags are diverted for manual inspection at the suggestion of the new automated security technology
  • Passengers forced to wait in a long queue on the other side of the X-ray scanner
  • A larger number of passengers’ bags and personal things were ruffled by agents 
  • Travelers’ liquids sniffed for illicit substances


These technology ‘enhancements’ do not create the intended “more relaxed and smoother start of the journey.”

Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” It is tempting to focus on the easy-to-measure elements for showing improvements. In this case, reduced waiting time before security gates. The increased stress levels of passengers are harder to measure after they have undergone the security experience where they waited in a dense group post-X-ray gates, after their bags have been identified as suspicious, and after their personal items have been ruffled by inspectors.


Helsinki Airport can do much better. The happiest country in the world, Helsinki has some of the most impressive experience examples I have seen anywhere. From the bidet toilets in the airport bathrooms with their bird sounds ambiance, to the innovative child confidence and independence-focused education system, and the award-winning Public Library that revolutionizes the concept of public access, community building, and support for individual creativity. In a country with so much positive innovation, the traveler experience at Helsinki airport security really needs to be put under the X-ray of user experience research.

July 5, 2023
User Experience Consultant, Coach, & Educator